Amanda Ramsay heads to West Yorkshire to see if the residents of Bradford, Leeds and Wakefield will vote for an elected Mayor in referendums today.
Rocked by George Galloway’s late surge win in the by-election last month, the mood music in Bradford is intriguingly changing re. today’s referendum, which campaigners had put somewhat on the back-burner due to parties focussing on the local elections also taking place today.
One local Labour Party member, however, told Left Foot Forward:
“We’ve stopped making election predictions in Bradford.
“However, if forced, I’d say a ‘yes’ vote is now likely. It could make for one of the most interesting mayoral elections in November.”
Given the precarious nature of politics, anything is possible. The public may indeed reject the old ways of town hall councils led by party leaders elected by their peers and opt for a new, revitalised model promised by ‘yes’ campaigners.
West Yorkshire will also see referendums in Leeds and Wakefield.
• Elected mayors: To vote or not to vote? 26 Apr 2012
• Elected mayors: let the referendum campaigns begin 26 Jan 2012
Leeds Councillor John Illingworth, speaking with Left Foot Forward, sees the merits of a Mayor for West Yorkshire as being more appealing for strategic reasons, stating a worrying drift to the south east, particularly in new technologies.
The very influential and well-funded business community in Leeds is very much in favour of an elected city mayor.
At a debate last month, hosted by Leeds, York, and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, members expressed concerns about cities sticking with the status quo possibly facing a two-tier level of core cities, missing the chance of a ‘seat round the table’ of a much vaunted Cabinet of Mayors, promised by the prime minister.
Some in the business community speak of a city region mayor as being more relevant than individual city mayors, since the establishment of the Local Enterprise Partnership.
Cities minister Greg Clark MP has already spoken of a possibility of introducing a city region mayor at a later stage, alongside rather than instead of mayors for Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, all working in partnership together.
With the Tory-led government having scrapped Regional Development Agencies like Yorkshire Forward, which even former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Heseltine has said was “a mistake”, these cities have lost an important conduit for millions of pounds of public and private investment from other parts of Europe, money the West Yorkshire economy needs to kick-start the recovery.
Some are hopeful an elected mayor could draw new income streams.
Stuart Bruce, a Leeds Labour Party member, told Left Foot Forward:
“Leeds is the second largest metropolitan authority in the country and must play on the international stage to attract jobs and investment.
“Yet historically it has never got a fair deal from London – just look at the failure to get any investment in Supertram of a decent transport infrastructure. An elected mayor would have the clout and kudos to make this a priority and lobby from a position of strength.
“A mayor would have the biggest personal mandate of voters in the country, a voice that cannot be ignored.
“Despite, or perhaps because of, the no campaign’s negativity, I’m hopeful of a ‘yes’ vote in Leeds. Also, the constant national coverage of the London mayoral election, with big names like Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, means more people can see the benefits that a mayor has brought to the capital.”
Most city councillors across the land from all parties do not share this view, naturally concerned at what their futures may hold under a new system.
Cllr. Mark Dobson from Leeds city council told Left Foot Forward:
“Currently the council constitution enables the council to remove a poor or failing leader. It has been suggested that the selection of a council leader is undemocratic. This is also fundamentally inaccurate.
“A leader – like the prime minister – is a democratically elected individual who is nominated by other publicly elected representatives.”
Wakefield city council leader Cllr. Peter Box goes one step further, telling Left Foot Forward:
“If the Conservatives love elected mayors so much, why don’t they allow direct elections of the prime minister?”
Box speaks of “Alice in Wonderland” politics, complaining:
“…people are being asked to vote on an elected mayor but the government refuses to tell them what powers there might be.”
One Yorkshireman pours cold water on the notion of referendums in both Leeds and Wakefield, saying people there are very traditional and resistant to change; Box says Wakefield people would not like to lose their civic mayor.
But in large cities like Leeds, bigger concerns are worrying campaigners.
Back to Stuart Bruce, a Labour Party member in Leeds:
“Many of the problems Leeds faces aren’t unique – the need to make the transition from public sector to private sector jobs, a demand for more housing and especially affordable housing.
“It also has an over-reliance on financial and legal sector service jobs, with too many people excluded from those opportunities.
“Two of the biggest strategic issues facing Leeds are the lack of 21st-century public transport system and the economic and health inequalities between the north and the south of the city. Without a new mass transit public transport system Leeds will be disadvantaged against similar European and global cities.”
Indeed, globalisation means UK cities are competing with cities around the world, not just each other. There is a lot to consider in these referendums.
With the counts on Friday afternoon, Left Foot Forward will be posting news as more is known.